Each year an estimated 48 million Americans are stricken ill as the result of one food-borne pathogen or another. Just look at the most recent Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts from the FDA or USDA and you may just find a product you used earlier today or a restaurant that you recently ate at.

 

Unfortunately, we hear or read about a lot of issues around our country’s food supply and the public’s confidence in the safety of our food is just a bit above their confidence in Congress to get something done.  

 

From Monsanto to Costco and DuPont to Starbuck’s, not only is the farm at risk, but so too is the table.  The Food industry is a $1.5 trillion industry that grows, rears, slaughters, processes, imports, packages and retails most of the food Americans eat, and Congress is set to change how to governs under the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  

 

Today, the FDA can issue public warnings without prior notice to you, the FDA can alert the public that there is a public warning that your product may be contaminated and responsible for a foodborne illness outbreak, without giving the producer any opportunity to fix the problem that could potentially cause the company:

 

  • lost profits,
  • recall expenses,
  • damage to the brand’s reputation

 

In fact, the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act grants the FDA the statutory authority to issue such a warning for food products when, in its opinion, there is an “imminent danger to health.”  

 

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act a food industry executive could be responsible for FSMA compliance or lack thereof and companies will be required to maintain records that will assist in a potential recall or warning.

 

What if they are wrong and the product is safe to eat?  The damage is already done.  

 

A criss is ,,,,
 

A specific, unexpected, and non-routine event or series of events that create high levels of uncertainty and simultaneously present a company, community or government with both opportunities for and threats to its’ reputation. 

 

 

However, recent lawsuits filed by producers and growers have resulted in rulings in favor of the government, in that the government is providing information to the public in regards to their health and safety.

 

 

 

What have we learned from some of the recent crises involving E-coli, data breaches, TPP, obesity or GMO?  

 

The crisis itself may not cause the most damage -- it is how you handle it and from a regulatory standpoint, it is vital that those in the food industry have a written plan as required by law. The plan must at a minimum identify the steps to be taken, and assign responsibility for taking those steps. This includes notifying those in the supply chain, in addition to the public, of any potential hazard. 

 

In anticipating a crises, Get Ready! 

 

So before an issue becomes a problem, know where you are vulnerable and how you will deal with the vulnerability if exposed.   

 

Become aware!  Then start to listen to the chatter in the industry, among your suppliers and customers.

 

Develop the relationships! Identify the stakeholders to reach out to and the tools and resources available for reaching them.  This includes lawyers and PR consultants who can help walk you through a recall or the regulatory morass at the FDA, USDA, or (insert state here) Department of Agriculture. 

 

IT IS IMPORTANT TO RESPOND TO A CRISIS, DON’T REACT

 

But Act Fast and take control!    In any crises or recall, public perception is shaped by how quickly you respond to a crisis ... so you need to act fast.
 

Be Responsive!  Don't sit and wait for the issue to go away. Acknowledge the problem as a problem and the best way to address it is to get out in front of it.

 

Be Visible! From the moment the issue becomes public, the CEO needs to become the voice and face of the company acknowledge the issue, deal with it and help move forward.

 

It is okay to say “I’m Sorry!” Saying I’m sorry or I was wrong is never an easy thing to do.  But in preserving your reputation it can mean everything.  

 

Be accessible and make sure people affected know how to find you.

 

Seize the attention and turn it into an opportunity to meet with your supporters. Assure them that you are dealing with the issues, but seek their counsel as to how you think it should handled or what you should do.

 

Meet with the community and stay visible. Don’t go into seclusion and never run-a-way from the problem.

 

Stick to the facts ..Talk only about what you know.

 

Correct mistakes or misinformation being reported

 

Don’t be afraid to tap your industry associations and other support systems. When your brand or company reputation is called into question, you’re not alone. Industry associations such as: The Grocery Manufacturers Association (General Mills, Campbells, PepsiCo., Nestle), North American Meat Institute, National Pork Producers Council, National Cattleman’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Restaurant Association, Crop Life America have communication resources, and they employ technical experts who maintain strong relationships with federal regulators.

 

Finally, know your elected officials. They too can help in times of need or open doors for you that you could not open yourself. 

 

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